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Military Advocacy: Helping or Hurting?

When I published my article, Do Military Families Feel Entitled, I received a lot of comments from people who believed entitlement was a broader cultural problem and not a military-specific one. When times were good and the economy was humming along, I hadn't given too much thought to this subject. But when the economy tanked and belts were necessarily being tightened, I began to pay more attention to how a weaker economy affects a wartime military and its relationship with the general public.

Over the past decade, I've been fascinated with watching how the one percenters have been viewed, portrayed, perceived and supported by the 99 percenters. By one percent (less than that, really), I'm referring to those who wear the uniform, not to be confused with this 1% vs. 99% battle. I've also begun to pay attention to the ever-expanding list of individuals and groups who are now advocating on behalf of the military community.

In an environment where every federal dollar is fought over, there may be 400 applications for one job opening and numerous programs, laws and agencies are being proposed to help military families, is the collective advocacy industry hurting or helping our community?

Just this week, two articles caught my attention. One a program to forgive student loan debt for public service employees and another to expand the leave time spouses can take to care for wounded service members. We have had countless programs instituted in the recent past, in many cases due to pressure from lobbyists and advocacy organizations. Everything from HAP to the Office of Servicemember Affairs.

From this story:

It is absurdly ironic that members of the military can go into harm’s way, fight in combat and yet return home only to struggle to escape the invisible bondage of student loan debt.
Really? The military lifestyle is indeed unique and we are often placed in less than ideal situations which cannot be avoided. We go where we're told, move frequently and our spouses serve at the mercy of politicians. Those factors certainly require special considerations. However, we are also citizens grappling with a weakened economy like everyone else. Some of us make good decisions and some of us make bad decisions. Most of us do a little of both along this journey called life. Things like purchasing a home or enrolling in college or securing a loan are risks for everyone. While there are always deceptive people and corporations to be wary of, I've grown tired of being a member of a community where caped crusaders are constantly parachuting in to save us from ourselves.
Brian Deese, a National Economic Council deputy director, claimed on a White House press call Thursday that military families "by their nature are susceptible to deceptive practices." How so? "Nearly half of enlisted service members are under the age of 25," making them "less financially sophisticated than older Americans," Mr. Deese said. They move a lot, have "less expertise with local lending institutions" and "take on debt."
There's the rub for me. Are we being viewed as victims by some advocates then in turn by policy makers and finally, the general public?

I take offense to military families being portrayed as victims. Victims of our Commander-in-Chief. Victims of big banks. Victims of scammers. Victims of war. Victims of employers. Victims of society. It's a picture that is wholly unrecognizable to me.

Military victimhood has become both convenient and a trap for policy makers. I'm underwhelmed, to say the least, with politicians of all political persuasions. I've seen feel-good policy, toothless policy, policy to score political points and policy that carries unintended consequences which ultimately harms our community. Good for the advocacy industry is the understanding that virtually anything which appears to favor the military community will be supported, voted on and often passed, sometimes out of fear politicians will be accused of not fully supporting the military. And apparently they will. But there's a puzzling exception to the rule. If Congress were truly serious about shielding the military from political posturing, what's preventing them from passing the stagnant Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act? Where's the high-profile advocacy for that?

*crickets*

You see, the military is the best pawn evah and neither side is eager to give it up.

Lest you think I'm advocating for zero intervention, nothing could be further from the truth. There are a host of policies, programs and reforms which are sorely needed and contribute to the overall well-being of our service members, their families, and ultimately our nation. What I oppose is advocacy which defines our community as helpless, hapless or hopeless. I also oppose the military being used shamelessly as bait in high-stakes political games, particularly during a budget crisis.

So, is the advocacy industry helping or hurting? The answer, not surprisingly, is both. I suppose people will define advocacy differently. Certainly no two organizations are alike and there are many, many organizations fighting the good fight and making a tangible difference. I commend all of them and thank them profusely for their efforts. I'm a direct beneficiary of their work. But I've seen a lot of individuals and organizations described as "advocates" for military families and when I've looked at their positions and the programs they push, I've concluded that in some circles being an advocate means asking for everything, treating military families as if they're children unable to care for themselves and waging campaigns against those who may oppose certain positions for valid reasons. That's not, in my view, effective advocacy. I believe that to be harmful both practically and in terms of the way the general public views our community.

Caped crusaders have been hit hard by the recession. Here's hoping this forces us to choose our collective priorities appropriately, allocate our funds wisely and advocate based on real need and targeted, sensible reforms. Besides, we don't need no stinkin' caped crusaders when we have Navy SEALs and "badass" Rangers....

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